Friday, October 14, 2005

IMHO: A History of Violence

So, yesterday I saw 'A History of Violence', the new film by David Cronenberg, starring Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, Billy Hurt and Ed Harris...

In my humble opinion, you need to watch this movie. But I warn you, it's an odd one. Cronenberg, like Wes Craven, like Sam Raimi, will now and again go out of his milieu to make a film, the whys and wherefores of doing this being beyond me (but probably just to expand his oevour. BTW, I like using the fancy French words, but have no idea how to spell 'em, so bear with me), but more power to him, and them. The problem is that oftentimes, these directors will bring residue of their horror backgrounds with them, even when they're doing so-called 'mainstream' films. Cronenberg definitely does this with 'History', to interesting, and sometimes frustrating, effect.

Okay, don't freak out, I'm not going to give anything away; no spoilers here.

The movie starts out slowly, but that's intentional. The camera lingers on two men emerging from a motel room. I shouldn't say linger; this camera is LOCKED on 'em. The men have a drawn out conversation, meant to convey some type of laconic, folksy, but ominous portent. I yawned. Then violence happened, or the result of violence, and I freaked, said freaking due more because of the really great special effects than the scene itself. The audience is being primed, you see. We're being told that this film is going to be slow, and peppered with surprising, brutal bits of violence, blood, and kick ass make-up.

And that's exactly what happens for most of the film. We're presented with life in a small town, where apparently only white people live, everyone knows everyone else, and they all say 'howdy' or 'how-do' to each other. This is the kind of small town life best presented in a flick from the 50's or 60's. Here, it's just... distracting. Especially when you see kids smoking weed (I presume, couldn't quite make out whether it was a joint or a cigarette, but if it was a ciggy, then man, these kids were sucking the tobacco right out of it!) in order to let you know that they are hip and with it. This is a reminder that you ain't in Mayberry, I suppose. We're also treated to some rap music, an additional reminder that we're in the here and now.

But then we're shown the teen bully, and I'm pretty sure that I've seen this kid before, in just about every teen angst film of the 80s and early 90s. You know the one; he's got longish hair, is cruelly good-looking, drives a rockin' SUV, and says 'bitch' a lot, as a perjorative, I imagine, and mainly aimed at the actor playing Viggo's son, a sensitive sort who angers the teen bully by-- wait, you ready?-- catching a fly ball!!! No shit, man. That's what he does. Why is this important? It's important because Viggo's son has told us, moments before, that he sucks at baseball, he's not looking forward to gym class, Viggo tells him that he just needs to get under the ball, blah blah blah. And then he catches the flyball, after showing us how bored he is on the field, his team wins the game, and he is now the prime target of the teen bully and his 'come on with it, bitch' dialogue. Yow!

Onto Viggo (and his lovely co-star Maria); apparently, the best way for the King to play this character Tom Stall, owner of Stall's restaurant in Millbrook, Indiana, is to completely wipe any emotion off of his face, set it into a blank stare, and talk as if he is the grown up version of Opie Taylor. If he had said 'Golly' or 'Garsh!', I would not have been surprised in the least.

Now Tom is absolutely in synch with his Mayberry, RFD surroundings, even though his restaurant, small as it is, employs like, 4 or 5 people aside from himself. His wife, meanwhile, is firmly in the here and now, gang. Maria Bello plays a lawyer, we know this because a character tells us so, not cause we actually see her lawyering. And why is she a lawyer in this film? ... ... ...dunno. I guess, cause she has to be something? Aside from hot? Now, don't get me wrong. Bello is a fine actress, she does a great job in this film, but it bugged the hell out of me that she had more balls than Viggo's character (we find out later why). It felt like they were in two different movies!

'History' is based on the graphic novel of the same name, published by a now defunct division of DC comics. The same division that published 'Road to Perdition', by the way. I hope that Andy Helfer, who headed up that imprint, is laughing his ass off, and demanding his line of books back. The Paradox Press line of digest-sized books was way ahead of its time, and deserves to be brought back. And Andy, if you're reading this, I need work, so when my little blurb here makes all that good stuff happen for you, gimme a call, yeah?

I didn't read the comic, but I know the work of John Wagner and artist Vnce Locke. I am absolutely certain that the storyline played beautifully in the comic book medium; it's only in the translation to film that it suffered.

So why am I reccomending you watch this movie? 1. cause when it's good, it's really good. 2. the sex scenes are some of the most intense I've seen in years, outside of porn and french films. 3. there are some camera moves that are gorgeous. 4. ed harris, bill hurt, viggo have all done great work in the past, and they seem to have a lot of fun in this one, with plenty of scenery to chew up (even Viggo, after... well, you'll see), and, shit, it's Cronenberg, man. He always entertains, to one degree or another.

Check out History of Violence with your friends. Don't take your mom or a date, though; some of the scenes will freak you out, some will embarrass the shit out of you, in my humble opinion. Oh, and by the graphic novel!